Women’s football was soaring. Women felt represented. Seen. Celebrated. Supported.
Until, that is, Spanish midfielder Jennifer Hermoso reported how the head of the Spanish Football Federation, Luis Rubiales, had grabbed her head and kissed her on the lips without consent in front of thousands of people.
Despite video footage showing exactly what happened, the federation responded by calling her a liar and threatening her with a lawsuit. Rubiales issued a fierce denial, blaming “false feminism” and refusing to resign. His mother, meanwhile, has reportedly locked herself inside a church on hunger strike to protest against her son’s “inhumane treatment”.
And now, in yet another bizarre turn of events, the Spanish FA is holding an emergency meeting to decide what to do with its (now) suspended president.
But there’s one person who has notably been left out of consideration since the unwanted kiss originally took place: Hermoso herself. She went from celebrated football hero, to “lying woman” being sued for defamation by her own football federation – slammed right back into her place by the men at the top of her industry. The mask slipped. This is the real face of football.
The day of the World Cup final, my wife and I huddled together with our drinks, excited and emotional to watch a historic peak for women’s football on a huge screen in a pub. More than 1.9 million people attended the women’s World Cup matches in person. Millions more around the world watched along at home.
I looked around at the mixed crowd. Women and men, arms around each other, all celebrating a sport together.
Might this herald the end of sexism in women’s sport? Wasn’t this proof that women’s football was finally being taken seriously? Had they finally smashed the ceiling for little girls everywhere? Had women finally cemented their place in this (mostly) male sport?
Then one of our women lost the ball as Spain skilfully intercepted. And a guy next to us screamed, “You stupid f*****g idiot! B***h! I’d still f*****g sleep with you though!” He raised his pint to her, and glugged it down. All his mates laughed and slapped him on the back. My wife glanced at me. Maybe this wasn’t as safe as we thought.
The next moment, a tall guy pushed past me with his drinks, turned to me and said something so crude I won’t repeat it here. When he noticed my reaction, he rolled his eyes at me as if I was the problem.
I sighed. At the bottom of all the celebrations and excitement, we were still just sex objects to these men. And that’s exactly how it felt the moment I heard that the Spanish Football Federation had publicly called Jennifer Hermoso a liar for saying she didn’t consent to the kiss from Rubiales, and then threatened to sue her and all the other women who are standing by her.
The power ultimately remains within the patriarchal institutions, no matter how much the women stand together. We need look no further than the way that Hermoso went from national hero to liar in a few short days. Oh, how quickly they will destroy her, to protect a man at the top.
What this grim situation shows us is that women can give interviews... sign deals... be used to sell everything from sports drinks to bank accounts – but at the end of the day, the man comes first.
Female players already earned 20 times less than the men’s team during the World Cup. We need look no further to see the patriarchy truly alive and kicking than the moment one of us speaks out. Hermoso rightly demanded respect – and she received a litany of the old, outdated stereotypes in return: “Liar. Attention-seeker. Man-hater. Hysterical woman. Feminist.”
The implication is that Hermoso could have remained a hero, if only she had stayed silent. If only she had put out a statement smoothing it all over. If only she had kept her mouth shut.
Spain’s historic women’s World Cup win is being overshadowed by the sexual assault of a woman by a man in power. And the unsavoury labelling of a woman as a “liar” tells us all we need to know about the industry.